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Stern’s new vision for a safer planet

Economist Nicholas Stern laid out his new vision for and a safer and more prosperous planet today in London.

Speaking at the launch of his new book ‘A Blueprint for a Safer Planet: How to manage climate change and create a new era of progress and prosperity’, Lord Stern urged world leaders to see the opportunity for a green recovery from the economic downturn. His hope is that the Group of 20 developed and developing economies meeting in London this Thursday will emphasize the need for a transition to bouyant green economy. “It’s the only option. Low economic growth in a world that has poverty and that is aspirational is unacceptable”, said Stern today at the London School of Economics.

A former World Bank economist, Stern is best known for his landmark report on the Economics of Climate Change, which was published at the behest of the UK government in 2006. The 700-page dossier reframed climate change from being an environmental issue to one of concern to industry and investors alike.

Since then, “emissions have grown faster than we had assumed and the buffering capacity of the planet has lessened", said Stern. "But the pace of technological change has been faster than expected and the level of political commitment is now stronger than it was 2-3 years ago”, he added optimistically.

Still, in his new book Stern has scaled down his recommendation for where atmospheric greenhouse gas levels ought to be stabilized. Whereas his 2006 report suggested an upper limit on atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations of 550 ppm CO2-equivalent, Stern now says we should hold levels below 500ppm CO2-equivalent [or 450 ppm of CO2 alone]. “We will be at 450ppm CO2* within 6 or 7 years anyhow, but it’s possible to hold levels below 500ppm and to then come down from there”, he said.

Asked whether he was advocating the use of geoengineering to reduce atmospheric concentrations from 500ppm, Stern said it will be part of the solution, but suggested that technologies such as biomass or carbon capture and storage could perhaps be used to sequester the gas rather than “throwing dust or mirrors into the sky”. He also critized efforts to allow new coal fired power stations, such as the one at Kingsnorth, Kent, to proceed without such schemes in place to capture the emissions.

Whether stabilizing below 500ppm in the short term will go far enough to avert dangerous climate change is questionable. Some scientists such as James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, now think that we need to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 350ppm to avoid a dangerous level of warming.

But While Stern acknowledged today that ’it’s quite possible that Hansen’s target is a sensible one for the long term", he is adament that “the first thing is to stop atmospheric concentrations from rising and then to assess the risks. We can’t eliminate the risk [of dangerous climate change], but we can bring down those risks”.

Stern called on world leaders meeting later this week to send out a strong signal on the urgent need to agree a global climate deal in December.

A Blueprint for a Safer Planet (Random House) is out on April 2.

Olive Heffernan

Correction added April 1st: This should refer to 450ppm CO2-equivalent


  1. Report this comment

    William said:

    “We will be at 450ppm CO2 within 6 or 7 years anyhow” – hopefully he has just carelessly forgotten the “e”.

  2. Report this comment

    Olive Heffernan said:


    Thanks for pointing that out. I should have added in the ‘e’ in on the post. I’ve made a correction on it now.



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    Matt West said:

    Stern proposes attainable targets. But if we are going to be successful we must ensure that the business community is onside sooner rather than later.

    Climate change legislation will significantly impact the business community. As the president of a consulting firm, I am immersed in the business of going Green on a daily basis. As a champion of sustainable business, I understand that for Green to be viable, sustainable businesses must be profitable..

    Businesses struggling under the weight of recession should understand that we are not faced with a choice between the economy and the environment, we must manage both, failure to manage either constitutes gross negligence. Never more than today, business people, entrepreneurs and investors need information and resources to survive.

    Businesses seeking to position themselves ahead of domestic legislation should be following COP 15 discussions and making strategic assessments regarding what they can do to be ahead of the curve on climate change regulation.

    For more information go to

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    Veli Albert Kallio said:

    I listened through Stern’s long presentation filled with numbers: CO2 levels, temperatures and their probabilities from Hadley or Max Planck institutes.

    Stern was throughout extremely cautions in his speech avoiding slippage of any populistic “jibe” or “gut feeling”, intuition that Jim Hansen, James Lovelock or Al Gore are often accused of.

    Despite Stern appearing to deliver the ‘purest of the purest distilled water’ to his audience, I noticed a catastrophic failure in his arguments and sources.

    Stern and his sources primary flaw is reliance on smooth continuum of projection as most likely outcome from GHG addition as junked out by computers CO2/ppm v. temperature/%.

    I don’t know a single real life accident that came into existence like a rainbow-type continuum of possiblities: where outcomes move through a continuum from the blue (cold) to red colour (hot).

    All accidents happen not like a continuum of outcomes filling possibilities from zero to infinity like a rainbow. Man-made accidents and disruption in every nature systems happen in increments, not continuum.

    Stern and his sources fanning out a rainbow of projections must be wrong: planes don’t crash from the sky from point zero all the way to infinity at horizon. They are sudden snaps of the weakest link, then the next weakest link. The rest 99% of air frame is irrelevant if the remaining 1% makes it fly.

    The CO/ppm & C/% matrixes do no have sudden flips in the system when the vital parts brake down. GHGs in natural world are not like a smooth linear surface, a ramp to take a wheel chair to upstairs, but more like a stairway with steps.

    The second error by Stern was that by 2050 we need each year reduce amount of CO2 emission to reduce emissions to zero. None of his models had a place for disruptions “lost decades” that stop a progress for a while.

    In the 20th century there were huge disruptions in Europe – why it remained my youth economically behind USA although Europe had had early industrial machine-power since 1764. Think about war impact in Germany, Poland, Japan…

    Green economy and manufacture don’t exist in isolation from the rest of the world: economic or oil shocks, new cold-wars, world-wide influensa epidemics, coastal floods, famines, Chernobyl-style accidents, terrorism – all interfere our ability to fund the green economy to take us away from GHGs.

    My principal commissioners (group of nations), have national security policies stipulate that even this espected publication NATURE is black-listed as self-contaminated by a group-think of Western-minded scientists gravitating their ideas over evidence of other nations. See Podznan (December 2008) communiquea i.e. the Republic of Bolivia that was signed and made public by His Excellency President Evo Morales and Podznan states 60% of world people must leave homes due to the sea rise.

    As for Group B of Nations at London G20, I got a fork into my eyeball from a Western-taught scientist who knows nothing of our nations’ reasons much like the Italian or French Universities knew about Galileo Galiei’s moons appearing in telescopes.

    Poor and impoverished nations don’t have money for scientific experiments and our national memories are not always aligned what the West wants us the think of history of the 3rd world before Europeans.

    We are ‘hate-figures’ to self-pampered people in the West. But our recollections are that the West are 100% wrong about the causative, duration and termination of ice age. Give money and we put your ideas to rubbish bin.

    Our Group B Nations want these experiments to prove that the Laurentide Ice Sheet never melted away in situ:

    1) cause of the ice age is strong geothermal fluctuations (primarily in the North Atlantic that vapourised water over 0.4 kyr retreating sea level and cooling climate as per national records. It was due to large volcanic island forming activity.

    If our nations remember their history right, thus a short-life cosmogenic radioisotope carbon-14 appears under massive ice sheets before the heating process started to change sea levels world-wide. It is our nations’ official line (presented to the United Nations’ General Assembly). Period.

    2) Group B Member nations recollect the sea surged rapidly up when there were global warming that ended the ice age.

    Instantaneous volumetric increase seen at the time comes from ice sheets never melting peacefully in situ, but suddenly detaching and sliding off the land into oceans to rise sea level suddenly with costal flood world-wide and recalled by 270 nations in their memory).

    Our working groups assume strong coupling of the losses of Arctic marine and terrestrial ice and

    Melville Bay cost will fail immediately after sea ice of the Arctic Ocean is lost; i.e. National Security Assessment a projects date on ice sheet land containment failure from 2011 to 2013 if sea ice disappeared in 2009.

    Thus we call funds for precise positioning meters to mmeasure changes of (1) elevation, (2) lateral movement and (3) ground tilting to assess whether the Melville Bay Cost is already active due to ice terrestrial load.

    As a further precursor we expect the magnetic fields weaken and re-route further before a full litospheric column activation and adjustment.

    National Security Assesments’ injecture rate of non-condactive minerals into electrically-active Faraday’s Cage Layer of the Earth’s Core (under Greenland) sees 260-280% increase of non-conductive materials over the next 10 years (2010-2020) into the active Faraday’s Cage.

    The Hudson Bay isostatic rebound (outward expansion sinks) may also suddely fill and change rate of re-arbsorbtion of lighter non-conductive materials from Greenland and absorved from the Faraday’s Cage to confuse the onset estimate.

    The likely tipping point is sea ice which changes ice sheet mass balance and its resting friction on land that suddenly fails. These limit uses of the rock injecture monitoring that cannot fully be relied upon to give times and dates on this report.

    3. The sudden immersion experiment should indicate passage of 5,000 – 30,000 depression systems passing along the Arabian Sea basin if the Western nations’ (Milutin Milankovits and cosmogenic radioistopic dating are correctly interpreted by the Western sources).

    We proposed that LGM to Younder Dryas era conurbations on the Bay of Cambay are assessed for the storm damage in case the Western (Group A) right with ice age chornology. Focus should be on sign of wave battering on the dwellings and other built structures to see if the sea rose slowly as they think. The progress report on this depends on the permits’ and support gathered from India by Her Royal Highness Princess Irene.

    Additional observations are to be made to seek out for presence of human remains and household valuables in the dwellings on sites A to F (Bay of Cambay) and chronological anomalies for historic/prehistoric objects retrieved that ought to occur if 0.328 kyr appeared in incremental refills from the Laurentide, Weischelian and Patagonian slied and fragmentation events.

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